Kenneth Paul Tan (2021) "Singapore’s Neoliberal Decadence: Meritocracy Revisited", Public Lecture at Southeast Asian Research Centre, City University of Hong Kong, 8 November.
Singapore has often been described as a successful meritocracy. However, over the last couple of decades, as inequality and poverty have become much more visibly felt in many people’s lived experience, views about meritocracy in Singapore have become rather less uncritical. Kenneth Paul Tan discusses five types of criticism, focusing on the view that meritocracy is part of a larger narrative of decay. He elaborates on this decadent form of meritocracy through a theoretical framework that points to the rise of authoritarian populism as a debased response to the kind of rigid technocratic elitism that Singapore’s meritocracy has degenerated into, largely a result of an ever-tightening embrace of the orthodoxies of neoliberal globalization without adequate policies to deal with its disruptions and dislocations. As more and more Singaporeans feel left behind and ignored, while the voices of those who attempt to speak up for them are quietened through an expanding range of legal and policy instruments of censorship, the meritocratic compact that once supplied political legitimacy is poised to become the source of its erosion.